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Apr 18

Judging from the bursts of laughter in the dining room (including the conspiracy of the women at the table to go to Las Vegas for the weekend, and chef’s need to drive a guest home) last night’s Cozinha Portuguesa was a great success. Special thanks to guest GA, who was kind enough to bring both a 1963 and 1958 Sandeman Vintage port for the crowd. It was a fabulous opportunity–and an incredibly gracious offering from our guest.

On the menu for our “pork to port” dinner:

Presunto Iberico de Bellota (technically, from Spain just across the border; I can’t get Portuguese presunto here. But it’s made from the famous black pig and was amazing)

Sardinhas grilhadas (sardines on the grill; marinated in olive oil and lemon first. We removed the head and tail cuz ‘mericans are a little funny about that sometimes; this is one of my favorite dinners when combined with Portuguese corn bread)

Pastel de funcho (caramelized fennel tart; not technically Portuguese but uses a commonly-used ingredient in Portuguese cuisine)

Caldo verde (kale soup made from a particular type of kale from my mom’s–aka sous chef–garden; we used homemade chicken broth; then we grilled housemade linguica and placed a little bit in each bowl)

Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa (another ‘national dish’ of Portugal; an acquired taste, this salt cod baked with potatoes and topped with slices of boiled egg and chopped black olives)

Bolinhos de bacalhau (salt cod fritters; I rolled them in panko crumbs before frying; great contrast with the creamy interior)

Lombo de porco com bivalves (common Portuguese combination: clams and pork; we roasted a pork loin and separately made a sauce of mussels and clams)

Pork confitado (pork confit…a little dab’ll do ya)

Cheese course: Serra da Estrela (guests asked for seconds on this amazing creamy cheese from the Northern parts of Portugal); Sao Jorge, a cheddar-like cheese from the Acores. Served along with mom’s marmalada, or quince paste, which is similar to Spain’s membrillo.

Pasteis de nata (homemade puff pastry tart with a lemony custard)

Pudim de ouro (a gorgeous confection made by chef’s mom…called gold pudding, made in a bundt-like mold and gently baked in bain marie for an hour)

Again…things get too hectic for pictures when you have eight guests waiting. ūüôĀ

Maybe next time I’ll hire a photographer…anyone willing to photograph for food? I think bartender/barista/front-of-the-house husband snapped off a few pictures. I’ll check to see what he came up with.

A great MANY thanks to JJ, who flew up from San Diego to help out in the kitchen and, importantly, in the post-mortem clean up. The house is all back to normal like nothing ever happened.

Now, gearing up for another one (this time a “commissioned dinner”–a request by group) on May 8.

Apr 04

Growing up, I would anxiously sit through the long Mass on Easter Sunday, fidgety in my itchy lacy Easter dress. And my mind was focused on one thing: Portuguese sweet bread (massa sovada, which means leavened bread). Typically my mother (and every Portuguese woman we knew) would make vast quantities of it and distribute it to family, friends and neighbors. So we would have a collection of breads on our kitchen table. But my mom’s was and still is the very best. Most years, I make it with my mom because it’s a tradition I definitely want to keep. Without kids we have no one on whom to pass the recipe or the tradition.

So with that in mind, I am going to document the process. Please note that this makes QUANTITY bread–enough to share as holiday gifts with friends, family and neighbors. This recipe made seven loaves, which we distributed.

ingredients for massa sovada

Ingredients for massa sovada

INGREDIENTS

The Starter

3 packets of yeast

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups warm water

1 egg (best if it’s room temperature)

To make the starter:¬†Mix the yeast with 3/4 cup of the warm water and a pinch of sugar and let “proof,” meaning you’re making sure the yeast is active. The yeast will start to “eat” the sugar and it will bubble up. Then mix together the rest of the¬†ingredients and set aside in a warm, draft-free place. Allow it to bubble up and double in size.

The Bread

24 eggs (best if they are room temperature)

2 cups of sugar

1/4 cup liquid sweetener*

Grated lemon peel from one lemon

3 sticks of butter, melted

5 lbs. of flour

Yeast before proofing

Yeast after proofing

Starter before

Starter after (about 2 hours later)

For the bread: Sift the flour into a LARGE pan (ours is about 24 inches in diameter; you can usually get them at a restaurant or bakery supply warehouse). Add the proofed yeast mixture.

Shifting flour using a fine mesh strainer

In a large bowl crack the 24 eggs, add the sugar and sweetener and beat well. Add the beaten eggs and sugar to the flour in the pan. Use your hands to integrate the liquid ingredients with the flour until a rough dough is formed. Now you’re ready to start kneading.

Eggs!

Start kneading the dough with closed fists, adding a little bit of melted butter to the bowl when the dough gets dry. (This is like the dough version of risotto.) Continue adding a little bit of butter at a time, kneading the dough in between. Please note how you knead major quantities of bread. You don’t slap the entire mass onto the counter and knead with your palms, like in most small-scale bread recipes.

Kneading the dough with your fists instead of your palms

Watch the action:

When all the butter is incorporated, place aluminum foil over the bowl, and wrap the bowl in blankets and place in a warm, draft-free place. Typically we do this the night before we bake.

Dough ready for bed

Pan wrapped in blankets in front of the heating vent for the night

We put the dough to bed around 10 p.m. At 5 a.m., my mother’s soft knock on our bedroom door alerted me that it was time to make the loaves. The dough had filled the pan.

Butter and flour the pans.

After making the loaves, we lay a blanket over them (not too heavy, lest they be compressed).

These rose for another two hours. At 7:30 a.m., we heated the oven to 350 degrees. We could fit three loaves in the oven at once. They baked about 45 minutes for each batch.

Hot out of the oven!

It’s tempting to each them hot out of the oven, but WAIT. Lay down a light blanket or clean towel over them to let them rest. You can let them cool without the blanket but that will result in a harder crust, which you don’t really want with this kind of bread.

Bread can be eaten warm within an hour or so.

*about the sweetener: there’s something about the sugar in Portugal vs. the American sugar that makes Portuguese sweet bread much heavier here than there. My mother’s solution is use some artificial liquid sweetener to add some sweetness without the weight or density. Typically, I avoid all laboratory products in my cooking but this is an exception and has great results. You won’t have any aftertaste, I promise.

Mar 31

The Indian government will use the¬†bhut jolokia, or “ghost chili,‚ÄĚ which holds the Guinness World Record for hottest spice, to make tear gas hand grenades in the fight against¬†terrorism. The nontoxic weapon can be used to choke terrorists or force them out of their hideouts, defense officials explained.

Read the story in the Christian Science Monitor.

Tagged with:
Mar 29

Just to prove a point…an article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Lisbon: Immovable city now irresistable force

Mar 17

To demonstrate the saying that “celebrity breeds celebrity”, an article is this weekend’s The New ¬†York Times demonstrates everything I hate about the phenomenon of food celebrity. Honestly, there’s hardly one of those people in the article I’d want to spend the afternoon with. I’ll admit I would love to do some kind of food-travel show–to combine my previous experience in TV production with my love of cuisine would be a dream come true. That said, I feel I’m too NPR for a Howard Stern world.

There are plenty of food shows on public broadcasting, for sure. They obviously never get to the level of celebrity or, frankly, INCOME that commercial TV does. But that’s really not the point, is it?

I could not look at people in the eye if I was producing some of the vile stuff mentioned in the article:

ultrathin patties of, really, meatloaf ‚ÄĒ beef, grated onion, garlic powder ‚ÄĒ that were bracketed by yellow American cheese and swaddled in heavily buttered slices of white bread

Plus my biggest challenge is that I generally despise am annoyed by¬†the general public. That could be a problem for a celebrity, right? Of course, that sort of works for Anthony Bourdain. In some ways I’d want to be the “quit your whining and get in the kitchen” persona. The person who doesn’t tolerate fools gladly. The person who has little patience for the “I-don’t-have-time-that’s-too-hard” mantra. Give me a break. You have time for hours on the Internet or in front of the TV, but not 30 minutes to pull together a basic meal from scratch? PALeeze.

Mar 17

The last several years have yielded quite a bit of publicity for Spanish cuisine. Led, in part, by the space-age molecular gastronomical gymnastics of Ferran Adria of El Bulli, and promoted extensively in the ill-conceived stream-of-consciousness “On The Road Again” with Mario Batali and GwynethPaltrow, Spanish cuisine has enjoyed (in my opinion) undue attention. Even Anthony Bourdain waxed eloquent about Spain’s CANNED FISH.

Meanwhile, Portugal sits quietly at the edge of the Iberian Peninsula, largely unnoticed by the talkaloti of food celebrity. It’s also difficult to come by a any variety of English-language Portuguese cookbooks. Typically, it’s a few token recipes thrown into a “Spain & Portugal” book.

In the insatiable search for The Next Big Thing, I have wondered if Portuguese food and wine is at the early shudders of fame and “coolness”??

David Leite’s latest book The New Portuguese Table has garnered quite a bit of national attention. Americans are also discovering that Portugal produces more than Port wine. Portuguese wine sales have been increasing in the U.S. for the last six years, with growth of 40 percent since 2007, according to the Portuguese wine marketing group ViniPortugal.

There was a recent restaurant event in San Francisco featuring Portuguese food.

Perhaps this suggests an opportunity on which we should seize?? Perhaps we should start planning the next Tavolavila? Perhaps we should start to move forward with a long-held dream of a travel-food-wine business…

Feb 28

While the East Coast is still in a deep freeze, the trees in our neighborhood are blossoming and there is a light dusting of yellow pollen everywhere. Spring is so close I can taste it. The farmer’s markets are still sporting winter fare: citrus and kale, for the most part. I love both, but I’m so ready to move on!

I am dreaming of fresh English pea soup, early girl tomato tartlets, tender sweet baby lettuce, artichokes with lemon aioli…

Feb 15

New York Times article today about pop-up restaurants in San Francisco.

Jan 31

Dinner tonight was blackened catfish, braised kale with black-eyed peas, and rice. None of these are mine (still have to figure out how to take pictures while I’m in the middle of cooking)!

Martha Stewart's version

Jan 30

Article this morning in SF Gate describes how several vendors at the San Francisco Ferry Building are being priced out of expensive rents. These are mostly small, entrepreneurial vendors (with the noted exception of¬†Scharffen Berger Chocolate, which was bought by The Hershey Company.) The article is a typical San Francisco “evil greedy landlord shuts out small businessman” type article. The comments are interesting–people still don’t understand that in order to live up to the ideal of a “fair living wage” and “health insurance for all” you have to PAY MORE for your products and services.

But politics aside, it does bring up an interesting issue about the future of the Ferry Building. It is indeed overrun by tourists; doesn’t really provide anything unique to locals (I can purchase Far West Fungi mushrooms or Cowgirl Creamery cheese at almost any Farmer’s Market as well as Whole Foods.).

My wish would be for it to stick to its original intention as a showcase for regional food products, but also as an educational center–lectures, book signings, cooking demonstrations and classes, etc. I would love to see Omnivore Books in there, which sells new and used (and antiquarian) cookbooks. I’d like to see it part of the celebrity chef tour. I’d like to see an episode of Top Chef there. I would like to see food gardening classes, a rooftop garden, etc. And I would like to see small independent producers still dominate. We don’t need both a Peet’s and a Blue Bottle. We don’t need both Reccuiti and Scharffen Berger/Hershey.

I would love to see something like Eataly. You can sign up for classes online. There is a wine education center, as well as a beer education center. I was completely blown away when I was there. It was not necessarily the place I would do my weekly grocery shopping (if I did weekly grocery shopping). But it was clearly a celebration of an ideal when it comes to food. In fact, it also hosted the world Slow Food conference.

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